The Zambian government on Friday denied reports that it had defaulted on its debt obligations to China and two other countries.
Last week, the Auditor-General’s report revealed that Zambia had defaulted on its debt payments to China, Brazil and Iraq amounting to 19.2 million U. S. dollars, 67.1 million dollars and 37 million dollars respectively.
The revelations have received wide condemnation from a cross section of society, with some accusing the government of lacking seriousness in off-setting external debts.
But Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda, in a statement released to the media, clarified that the assertions which have created an impression that the government had defaulted on debt obligations should be discarded as they were not based on empirical evidence.
“The correct position is that, the figures being quoted in the public domain are not as a result of delinquency but on account of the special bilateral agreements between the government of Zambia and the concerned creditors, which arrangements have been structured under what are referred to as Paris Club Minutes of 2005; the benchmark for providing debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative,” he said.
According to the official, the special bilateral arrangements entered into with the three countries allowed for the suspension of debt service payments during the period of bilateral negotiations, pending signing of debt relief agreements.
The Zambian minister further explained that the government has been negotiating with the three governments with a view to signing bilateral debt relief agreements, adding that the three countries are the only remaining creditors that are yet to deliver their share of debt relief to Zambia under the HIPC Initiative.
“It is as a result of such arrangements that although the Zambian government is accumulating the ‘technical arrears’, neither Brazil, Iraq nor China has been sending demand bills for debt service for settlement. Without demand bills for debt service, there can be no settlement of a debt, therefore, Zambia is not in default in any way,” he added.
The Zambian minister said the government was on course with all its external debt obligations and that both external and internal debt levels had remained below the international thresholds of 40 percent and 25 percent respectively.
Zambia attained HIPC Initiative completion point in 2005 at which the country was qualified for debt relief from its creditors. Zambia’s foreign debt had reached 7.2 billion dollars by then.
The southern African nation was among 18 African nations qualified for the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI), in which the G8 countries agreed to cancel 100 percent of the debt owed.